If you are seeking a challenging and meaningful career, becoming a licensed counselor may be a good fit for your goals. Counselors provide services in many areas that include individual counseling, family therapy sessions, and substance abuse treatment programs. As a counselor, you may work as part of a large health facility, a treatment and wellness center, or a private practice.
Counselors help individuals process the challenges that come with life. You may work with people dealing with grief, emotional trauma, or addiction, helping them navigate their current struggles and form a plan for the future. Thriving in this career involves someone with a caring personality who can also establish clear emotional and psychological boundaries with clients.
If you are thinking about how to become a counselor in Arizona, you must understand the multi-step process. Achieving this position will take several years of counseling therapy education and involves many requirements for certification along the way. However, Arizona has a critical need for licensed counselors, so there is a good chance your efforts will lead to meaningful employment.
Types of Counselor Licenses in Arizona
Arizona has two levels of licensure for counselors. These licenses do not represent separate career paths but reflect a counselor’s experience in their field. After graduating from an accredited program and meeting other requirements, all counselors begin with an associate license. With additional experience, they can submit an application to become a professional counselor.
Licensed Associate Counselor (LAC)
In Arizona, an LAC is an individual who has completed the minimum requirements to begin a career as a counselor. They will have completed a graduate degree in counseling or a related field such as psychology. Their program must also include an internship that involves at least 700 hours working in a recognized counseling setting. After passing a required exam and paying licensure fees, the counselor can begin their work under the supervision of an LPC. LACs often start their careers working with a large counseling agency or department, giving them easy access to the required oversight.
Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
Counselors cannot apply to become an LPC until they have had at least two years of supervised experience as an associate counselor. Additionally, the applicant must have completed at least 3,200 hours of direct counseling experience. LPC status makes it easier for a counselor to work in private practice or advance in a counseling setting.
Counselors with the equivalent of an LPC in another state can transfer their licenses through an endorsement process without an additional oversight period.
Instruction Required for Counselor Licensure in Arizona
After obtaining a bachelor’s degree from an accredited four-year school, potential counselors must go on to receive at least a master’s degree in an approved program. While some applicants may look for the flexibility of a general master’s program in psychology or counseling, others may gravitate toward a specific focus. Acceptable specialized study programs include the following:
- Marriage, couple, and family counseling
- Addiction and recovery counseling
- Social work
- Clinical mental health counseling
- School counseling
Arizona requires that accredited degree programs cover a broad range of topics around counseling. Because licensed counselors will serve in a variety of settings, they must graduate with an introduction to counseling practices such as client assessment and group work. The program must also cover general topics such as developing professional ethics and understanding cultural and social diversity.
State Specific Requirements
Arizona does not have unusual requirements for potential counselors. The state has approved graduate programs throughout the United States as valid when applying for licensure. It is important to note that these programs must include an internship program with at least 700 hours of supervised work in a counseling setting and about a third of that time spent in direct client contact.
The state requires that applicants pass a fingerprint background check that will reveal any criminal convictions. The Board of Behavioral Health Examiners (BBHE) also requires that applicants submit a report from the National Practitioner Data Bank. This document can be no more than 90 days old and indicates whether the applicant has been sanctioned for malpractice in any state.
Counseling sessions can be unpredictable. The state of Arizona wants to ensure that counselors have the necessary experience to handle difficult situations. The licensure board requires many hours of supervision before a candidate can become an LPC. Those hours begin with the 700 hours of supervised internship mandated for accredited academic programs. Completing this educational period constitutes sufficient experience for applying to the board as an associate counselor.
Becoming a professional counselor involves an additional 3,200 hours of supervised practice over at least two years. Half of those hours must involve direct client contact. The supervision must be carried out by an official LPC, licensed psychologist, or an approved medical doctor specializing in psychiatry. Working with a supervisor over an extended period allows the counselor to learn their personal weak spots and provides insight into handling difficult clients.
All applicants for LAC status must receive a passing score on one of three certification exams. These tests measure the applicant’s basic knowledge of counseling standards and practices. Two national bodies have developed the exams, providing a baseline for assessing counseling knowledge across the country.
National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE)
The NCE is created and administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors. It consists of 200 multiple-choice questions focused on general counseling knowledge and practices. The test session lasts for four hours, including 15 minutes for an introductory tutorial and a final review.
National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam (NCMHCE)
The National Board for Certified Counselors also administers the NCMHCE. This exam follows a different format from the NCE. It consists of 10 hypothetical counseling cases each with 9-15 multiple-choice follow-up questions given over a three-hour testing session. The test cover topics such as professional ethics, diagnosis, treatment planning, and general counseling skills.
Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Exam (CRC)
The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification has administered the CRC since 1974. This exam is designed for counselors seeking to specialize in clients with varying levels of disability. The test has 175 multiple-choice questions and a time limit of 210 minutes. It covers topics such as counseling theories and techniques, group counseling, crisis interventions, and case management.
Licensure and Fees
To verify and oversee counseling licenses in Arizona, the state must invest many hours in processing applications. The BBHE has several mandatory licensing fees to offset the cost of this work. Licensed counselors must pay several fees as they progress through their careers.
Initial Licensure Fees
The initial LAC application requires two separate fees. The fee for a fingerprint background check is $40 and is required for every applicant. The state assesses a $250 LAC application fee before a potential counselor can register for their counseling exam.
Counselors who move to Arizona from other states can receive a license by endorsement without retaking the counseling exams. The fee for this initial licensing process is also $250.
A candidate who is moving from LAC to LPC must pay a licensing fee of $250. They must also submit proof that they have completed the mandatory supervised hours.
License Renewal Fees
Both LAC and LPC licenses require renewal every two years. The standard renewal fee is $325. However, counselors who miss the renewal deadline must pay an additional $100 as a penalty.
Counselors taking a break from professional counseling must update their licenses to reflect the change. This practice prevents confusion and avoids penalties. They can update their status by paying a $100 fee. Applying for renewal will reactivate the license.
Continuing Education Requirements
New diagnoses, techniques, and treatments frequently develop in the counseling world, and the BHEE expects counselors in the state to stay current. LPCs must complete 30 hours of continuing education activities to maintain their Arizona counseling licenses. These hours do not accumulate between renewals, so CE hours beyond the initial 30 are not transferable to the next renewal period.
The state mandates a few CE topics. At least three hours must be devoted to approved activities on behavioral health ethics and cultural competency and diversity. Arizona restricts the number of CE hours an applicant can claim for Board of Behavioral Health Examiners (BBHE) meetings to six.
In 2018, the BBHE added a mandatory continuing education requirement outside of the existing 30 hours. All counselors must complete the Arizona Statutes/Regulations Tutorial before renewing their licenses.
Counselor Salaries in Arizona
Someone interested in how to become a counselor in Arizona will also have questions about their potential salary. The last update of average wages published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics took place in May of 2021. The results demonstrate that there is variety in the average wage depending on the type of counseling position. However, any full-time licensed counselor can expect to have a dependable income. For salaried professionals, the average wage in Arizona was:
- Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors – $54,190
- Marriage and Family Counselors – $58,360
- Rehabilitation Counselors – $37,950
- Other Counselors – $49,830